F-side Games

How To Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck

Over the last 15 years, Goodman Games has established a reputation for publishing some of the best adventure modules in the industry. Now we present our advice on how you can write great adventures! This compilation of articles is authored by two dozen of the industry’s best-known adventure writers. Each article gives a different perspective on how to write adventure modules that don’t suck, written by authors with decades of experience and prominent published credits. By the time you’re done reading this book, you’ll be on the path to designing great adventure modules on your own.

Whether you’re an experienced writer or an aspiring novice, you’ll find something of value in this book!

Writers: Jobe Bittman, Mike Breault, Anne K. Brown, Timithy Brown, Stephen Chenault, Casey Christofferson, Chris Clark, Michael Curtis, Chris Doyle, Joseph Goodman, Allen Hammack, Jon Hook, Kevin Melka, Brendan J. LaSalle, Lloyd Metcalf, Bill Olmesdahl, Steve Peek, Jean Rabe, Merle M. Rasmussen, Lester Smith, Harley Stroh, Jim Wampler, James M. Ward, Skip Williams, Steve Winter
Cartoon Illustrations: Chuck Whelon
Endsheets: Doug Kovacs
Format: Hardcover

About the Contributors

How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck represents the distilled wisdom of a pool of great adventure writers. Fans of Goodman Games and TSR will recognize many of the names and backgrounds. This is certainly not every great adventure writer in the business, but it’s a darn good cross-section. Here is the list of contributors in alphabetical order:

Jobe Bittman has worked as a freelance RPG writer and game designer for nearly a decade. His writing has appeared in publications by Wizards of the Coast, Goodman Games, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, and Kobold Press. Jobe has been privileged with the opportunity to work on professional projects with such gaming legends as James Ward (Metamorphosis Alpha) and Steve Crompton (Grimtooth’s Traps). Goodman Games recently announced Jobe’s latest project, a new RPG adaption of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth.

Mike Breault began working on RPGs in 1984 when he was hired at TSR. Over the next eight years, he contributed to more than 80 games, modules, and hardback rules books published by TSR and Milton Bradley (HeroQuest). He co-designed his first computer RPG, Pool of Radiance, in 1987; he’s worked on almost 40 more video games since then. His most recent digital RPG work was for the Elder Scrolls Online game in 2014 and an add-on release for the game in 2015.

Anne K. Brown began her career at TSR, Inc. as Assistant Editor of Dragon magazine, then was lured into the Games Division by dark lord James M. Ward, where she remained for eight years. She was heavily involved in the worlds of Spelljammer, Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and was the lead editor for the launch of the Birthright setting; her favorite projects were Tome of Magicand the Masque of the Red Death boxed set and accessories. She is the author of ten books and editor of nearly 100 volumes, and has extensive experience writing marketing materials and grants for nonprofits. As an author, Anne considers her dictionary to be an enormous toy box, and enjoys the chance to collect and play with new words.

Timothy Brown is a veteran role-playing game designer, having worked for Game Designer’s Workshop, TSR, and FASA, among others. He is the co-designer of the 2300 AD and Dark Sungame universes, and has written for Traveller, Space: 1889, and various Advanced Dungeons & Dragons settings including World of Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and Spelljammer. Timothy has been Director of Creative Services for TSR and is presently Studio Director of Ulisses North America, publishing the role-playing games The Dark Eye and TORG Eternity.

Stephen Chenault has been writing and publishing RPGs since 1999 when he started Troll Lord Games. He has run the company since 2003 and written a mountain of material for Castles & Crusades, Aihrde, the Crusader Journal, Dungeons & Dragons, fiction, articles and a plethora of commentary on the TLG blog. He has worked with such notables as the late Gary Gygax, James M. Ward, Darlene, Bill Webb and Joe Goodman. You can find all his material and more about the games he writes at www.trolllord.com.

Casey Christofferson has written for various publishers since the early 2000’s including the Ennie nominated Feast of the Gobbler, Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set, Tome of Horrorsseries, and the Tower of Jhedophar for Necromancer Games/Kenzer Co. He has done various work for Troll Lord Games including development of the Haunted Highlands Campaign Setting, Players Guide, and adventure source-books including the Book of Familiars, and the Castle Keepers Guide. He also has an adventure in DCC #46 Book of Treasure Maps for Goodman Games! Casey has authored various short stories including Tinsel the Christmas Elf, a YA adventure available on Kindle.

Chris Clark is the author of the Inner City, Playin’ in the Streets, Fuzzy Hero and Lance role playing games, the Pitfall dungeon series, A Challenge of Arms, The Ritual of the Golden Eyes (with Gary Gygax), and the Lands of Igpay series of adventures for classic fantasy role playing games. He also penned the Forest of Deceit series (4 adventures), and Rain of Terror for Eldritch Enterprises, is the most prolific author of published Lejendary Adventure scenarios, and has written several science fiction adventures with noted author James M. Ward. Chris has worked with Frank Mentzer, Tim Kask and Gary Gygax on adventures and adventure writing, and has had 26 of his adventures published under various companies and for various role playing systems… and he is far from finished.

Michael Curtis began playing RPGs in 1980 and has been designing them professionally since 2008. Most known for his work with Goodman Games, Michael is the brilliant mind behind such Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures as Frozen in Time, Intrigue at the Court of Chaos, The Chained Coffin, and the award-winning Dungeon Alphabet. He is currently the lead writer for the DCC Lankhmar line of game supplements based on the works of acclaimed author Fritz Leiber. Michael lives in Long Island, NY, with the requisite number of cats for a writer and far too many books.

Chris Doyle began freelance writing in the game industry in the early 1990’s through volunteer efforts with the Role Playing Game Association (RPGA). He has since freelanced for several companies such as TSR, West End Games, Wizards of the Coast, Atlas Games, and Goodman Games. Although he has designed and contributed to RPG source material, the majority of his projects have been the design of adventure modules. He has penned adventures for the 2nd edition, the 3rd edition, 3.5, 4E and 5E for the world’s first fantasy RPG game.

Joseph Goodman owns Goodman Games. He created the Dungeon Crawl Classics line of adventure modules and DCC RPG. Over the years he has published several hundred adventure modules and had the honor to work with some very imaginative game designers. He is the author of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, DragonMech, Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex, and many adventure modules.

Allen Hammack worked for TSR in the early days from 1978-1983. In his gaming career, Allen has contributed to some 70 products as author, designer, editor, or developer. These include designer of the popular classic C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness; A1-A4: The Slave Lords Series; I9: Day of Al-Akbar; the tournament AD&D adventure Night of the Black Swords, and as an editor for the games TOP SECRET® and the first edition DMG. He wrote three books on mythology in RPGs for Mayfair Games (Fantastic Treasures I and II, and Monsters of Myth & Legend III).

Jon Hook suspects that most of today’s game authors, like himself, have been creating fantasy, sci-fi, and horror adventures since they were a kid. The only difference now is the paycheck. Jon is very passionate about the people who comprise the role-playing and tabletop game community, and they have been very kind and supportive of the work he has created. Jon is by far a Call of Cthulhu guy, and has been fortunate enough to have work published by a variety of Call of Cthulhu publishers, including Goodman Games. His most recent Cthulhu adventure is Age of Cthulhu 9: The Lost Expedition.

Kevin Melka was hired as the RPGA Network’s Tournament Coordinator after a decade of writing and running adventures . He then won first place in the DM Invitational Writing Contest two years in a row. He was instrumental in the development of the Living City, and creator of the Living Jungle Organized Play worlds. He also has design credits in the Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, and several d20 worlds. Kevin is writing adventures and participating in organized play events today, and still enjoys role-playing games with the friends he met in the basement of a hobby shop in 1983. 

Brendan J. LaSalle is a writer, game designer, and odd-job man who had the good fortune to discover his true calling in 1977 when he was introduced to AD&D. He is the author of several DCC adventures and supplements for Goodman Games, Fat Dragon, Savage Mojo, Hand Made Games, Pandahead Publishing, Troll Lord Games, and others. He is best known as the creator of Xcrawl, the dungeon-adventure-cum-alternative-modern-death-sport he has published since 2012. He lives in Salem, MA, with his wife, cat, and puggle.

Lloyd Metcalf began gaming in the early eighties when he and his friends all pitched in for the Basic Red box D&D. From then on, he was always dreaming of other worlds, heroes and spells. Now as an adult, he can hardly believe it is his work to create, illustrate, and produce RPG supplements. It has been just over 30 years of immersion into the game and in the last few, he has been humbled and honored to have worked with many of the people who created and illustrated the game that changed his life. Lloyd’s website is at http://FailSquadGames.com 

Bill Olmesdahl has been a DM and player for almost 40 years. He started writing for West End Games in the 90’s on Star Wars, Torg, and Paranoia before moving to TSR and working on Forgotten Realms, Dark Sun, Spellfire and Dragon Dice. Bill continues to play and run D&D and Pathfinder every weekend in various online campaigns.

Steve Peek began designing and publishing games with Battleline Publications in 1973. Over the course of the next forty years he was involved in the design, development, production or marketing of over 400 games for various companies. Among those games were a number of role-playing titles including Man, Myth & Magic, Pirates and Plunder and Timeship. During the course he game mastered several hundred adventures during store promotions and conventions.

Jean Rabe learned to play Dungeons & Dragons from the white box more years ago than she wants to admit. It was in the con suite at WindyCon…where she met Joe Haldeman (before he won all those awards and became famous…and she’s since published some of his short stories in her anthologies). She’s enjoyed RPGs ever since…AD&D, Star Wars, Champions, and 77 Lost Worlds. Once upon a time she worked at TSR, Inc. in Lake Geneva, running the Role-Playing Games Association (RPGA); she designed scenarios, monsters, and big robots for TSR and other game companies.

Merle M. Rasmussen’s TOP SECRET® Espionage Role Playing Game with Mission Module Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle (TS001) was published in February 1980. Next came Ace of Clubs (TS006), Quagmire! (X6), Lathan’s Gold (XSOLO), Ghost of Lion Castle (BSOLO), Midnight on Dagger Alley (MV1), The Savage Coast (X9) with Jackie Rasmussen and Anne C. Gray, and “Tortles of the Purple Sage—Parts 1 & 2” with Jackie Rasmussen, TOP SECRET® Espionage Game Companion, and The G4 File: Guns, Gadgets, and Getaway Gear with Jackie Rasmussen. NUTZ & VOLTZ! A Robotic Science-Fantasy Role-Playing Game by Merle and Jackie Rasmussen appeared in WHITE WOLF Magazine Issue #10 in 1988. Additional role playing modules appeared in The Dragon®, Dungeon®, and Challenge® magazines.

Lester Smith is an award-winning game designer, poet, and writer. He has more than fifty published game credits alone, along with a multitude in poetry, fiction, and educational titles. His recent work includes the one-stat, multi-genre D6xD6 role-playing game, whose core rules are free online at www.d6xd6.com. Visit www.lestersmith.com for more information or to contact him.

Harley Stroh ran his first adventure at the age of 8, when goblins killed his father’s thief in the Caves of Chaos. Since then he has written nearly 50 adventures, sourcebooks and short stories, but remains hopeful the next one that will finally be good. He is grateful to every judge that has ever run one of his adventures; you guys are the ones that make these words alive. 

Jim Wampler is currently a writer, editor, and occasional art director and layout monkey for Goodman Games. In addition to the forthcoming Mutant Crawl Classics RPG, Jim has written several Metamorphosis Alpha adventures and two sequel adventures for the DCC RPG Purple Planet series for Goodman Games. As overlord of the Dungeon Crawl Cabal, Jim has also overseen a secret cabal of talented writers and artists who have created three DCC RPG tournament funnels for use by the Goodman Games Road Crew.

James M. Ward on James M. Ward: I had the distinct pleasure of learning how to play D&D on Gary Gygax’s side porch in 1974. Gary must have seen some spark in me because he allowed me to try my hand at writing Metamorphosis Alpha, the first science fiction role-playing game. I went from writing MA to writing Gamma World, the first apocalypse role-playing game. Over the last forty years or so I’ve written many RPG things with my latest being the 77 Lost Worlds RPG campaign setting. Goodman Games has been kind enough to revive the MA intellectual property and now there are lots of MA adventures and accessories to enjoy; and I thank them for that.

Skip Williams started running role-playing games in 1975, shortly after meeting a fellow named Gary Gygax. Before long, Skip joined the original TSR, Inc. as a part-time employee and later full time as director of the Gen Con game fair. For many years, Skip penned the Sage Advice column for Dragon magazine, answering questions about game rules and sharing tips and techniques for keeping a campaign running. He’s the co-creator of the D&D 3rd Edition game and an avid miniaturist.

Steve Winter has been a stalwart of the role-playing industry since he joined TSR, Inc. in 1981. Over the decades, he’s been an editor, designer, author, creative director, product manager, web producer, and community manager. His imprint is stamped on role-playing projects stretching from Dwellers in the Forbidden City to The Rise of Tiamat, and hundreds in between. Steve’s shorter ramblings can be found at www.HowlingTower.com, or @StvWinter on Twitter.

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