Thursday, 16 June 2016

Designing a One Sheet, Savage Tale, or Plot Point Episode

I've previously talked about TV Shows as Plot Point Campaigns, Plot Point Episodes vs Savage Tales vs One Sheets, and even given a Design Overview for a Plot Point Campaign. But after releasing a free One Sheet for Drakonheim last month, Ron Blessing suggested I should also describe my process for writing One Sheets (which are essentially much the same thing as Savage Tales and Plot Point Episodes).

So without further ado, here are my eight steps for creating One Sheets...

Disclaimer: It should go without saying that this is just my personal approach, and others probably do things differently. But this works for me, so perhaps it'll be of use and/or interest to others.

Step 1: Adventure Overview

The first step is to come up with an overview of the adventure. If this is a Plot Point Episode then there should already be an overview in the Plot Point Summary, otherwise I'll have to write it. This doesn't need to be particularly long, a single paragraph of around 40-50 words is fine - I like to think of it as an elevator pitch for my adventure.

If I'm struggling for inspiration, one of the tricks I sometimes use is to browse through the stock art on DriveThruRPG.com, find an illustration that catches my fancy, and see if I can think of a way to build an adventure around it. An added benefit of this approach is that when it comes to doing the final layout, I don't have to hunt around for suitable artwork.

Step 2: Adventure Breakdown

The next step is to break the adventure down into different sections, which is conceptually much like breaking a campaign down into a series of Plot Point Episodes, except on a much smaller scale. My usual approach (which can also be seen in my free One Sheets) is to write up a short introduction followed by five titled sections, each of which usually corresponds to a different scene, then I list any NPCs at the end.

Eventually I'll be aiming for around 1200 words, which averages 200 words for the introduction and another 200 words for each of the five sections, although this is only a rough guideline - I usually end up with larger sections and smaller sections, and the final word count might also be a bit higher or lower (although I try very hard to stay within the 1000-1400 word range).

However at this stage I just want to list the five sections, perhaps with a brief sentence for each.

Step 3: Section Scope

Now I go through each of the sections adding detail, although this is in the form of rough notes rather than an actual description.

The easiest way to define the sections is to have them each describe a particular scene or challenge, possibly incorporating a specific game mechanic. For example the opening scene might involve an Interlude as the heroes introduce themselves to each other, an investigation scene might involve a Dramatic Task or Social Conflict (or even just a standard trait roll), a fight scene might be resolved as a regular combat or could use the Quick Combat rules, and so on.

I try to make sure the final scene involves either a combat encounter, a Chase, or a Dramatic Task, otherwise the adventure finale can feel rather anticlimactic. I also try to avoid using each of those three mechanics more than once per adventure, otherwise it can end up feeling a bit repetitive - if the story needs a second fight scene, for example, I prefer to use the Quick Combat rules for one of the fights.

Step 4: Section Write-Up

At this point each section is little more than a few scribbled notes, perhaps two or three sentences at most, but there should be enough of an outline that I know what needs to be done.

So I work my way through each of the sections, fleshing out the scenes and explaining the mechanics. As I mentioned earlier, each section averages around 200 words, but there will often be one or two sections that are bigger and more detailed, and one or more other sections that are smaller and more concise. I generally aim for 300 words for larger sections, and 100 words for the smaller sections, but once again these are only rough guidelines.

Step 5: Trim and Polish

At this point the adventure is pretty much complete from a content perspective, although it'll usually be too big, and will likely contain mistakes. I like to do several sweeps through the document at this stage, trimming it down to around 1200 words while proofreading thoroughly.

Step 6: Layout and Final Editing

Once the content is finished it's time to do the layout. This means copying everything into Scribus, adding the artwork and legal notices, and then doing a final bout of editing. I often rephrase and rearrange things at this stage as well, to make sure the text aligns neatly with the artwork and borders.

Step 7: Final Checks

In theory the adventure is now complete, but there are a number of last minute checks I need to do, such as making sure I'm using n-dash instead of a standard hyphen, verifying that all elements are on the correct layer, double checking that I've embedded all the fonts, running all the NPC statblocks through my analysis tool, and so on.

Step 8: Call a Friend

Although I've already proofread the document myself many times by this point, and double-checked everything I can think of, it's often difficult to spot my own mistakes, so this is the point where I ask some friends to take a look. Mathew Halstead and Manuel Sambs are usually kind enough to give me some valuable feedback, and Marcelo Paschoalin often has great suggestions concerning the presentation. Thanks guys, I appreciate it :)