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Places by the Way Design Diary 3.0: The Road to and From Oyster Cove

posted Sep 17, 2017, 1:15 PM by Douglas Sun

Writing Places by the Way has been great fun so far. My only aggravations have stemmed in some way from my decaying eyesight, including the fact that I could no longer read my original notes for most of the time that I was working on Places by the Way #2 and #3 because I could no longer read anything written with a normal ballpoint pen. In fact, I started taking notes in Sharpie, just to make sure I could read them afterward. Fortunately, I could remember just about everything from my old notes, and the final products aren’t missing anything important.

Now that my left eye is no longer obstructed by a cataract, I can read my original notes for Places by the Way again. I am reminded that I do, indeed, have a lot of ideas for the series — on top of the three that I’ve written so far, over a dozen more. I’m confident that almost all of these will turn out to be viable, and I’m not done adding to the list.

I can also see that I have an overall plan for Places by the Way that I couldn’t fully articulate before I stepped back from scribbling notes to see the forest from the trees. Back in the days of D&D 3rd Edition, I contributed to a lot of AEG’s d20 Topics series. These books covered a broad range of general topics that were relevant to D&D: The first book was entitled, Dungeons, the second, Dragons. And it went on from there. It was a good idea in context of the original OGL gold rush, but I always felt that AEG’s approach could have been more systematic, more thoroughgoing. There are probably plenty of good reasons why this was not practical, but it planted the idea in my mind that it would be cool to write a truly encyclopedic “alternate” treatment of just about everything under the sun in Dungeons & Dragons.

When I started brainstorming Places by the Way, I decided to set the first module in a farming village because agriculture is going to be the dominant activity in many, if not most, high fantasy settings. In a pre-technological, high fantasy world, gathering food is labor-intensive — just as it was for human history in the real world up until modern times. So it’s probably going to be happening in a lot of places in your world using a large percentage of the population. If Places by the Way was going to use mundane life as a starting point for adventure, then agriculture seemed like a broadly useful first step for the series.

The shipwreck in Places by the Way #2 recycled some old ideas because I knew that I could write it up quickly while I got used to the rhythm and flow of writing and self-publishing. But the fishing village in #3 is actually the first line-item in my notes — again, chosen because gathering food is obviously going to be a common and important activity in pre-modern societies.

As I added to the list, I kept thinking in terms of mundane places that would be typical of most D&D campaign settings. Now, upon second inspection of that list, I can see that I’ve been working on an encyclopedic collection of such places. So that’s what Places by the Way will be in its full form: a broad (striving to be comprehensive) collection of deceptively quiet places that you could put into your campaign world (including the Forgotten Realms). If a fishing village isn’t going to work for you, maybe you’ll find utility in something else from later in the series. And so on. Ideally, of course, you will want to buy them all, to have a full range of options at your command.

As it stands now, I’m confident that I have enough viable ideas to keep churning out Places by the Way for at least another two or three years. From that standpoint, the series has plenty of legs; these first three modules are only the beginning. The decisive question is, how many readers are willing to support its creation, whether on Kickstarter, or through more traditional sales venues? That is is still not clear to me, as I am not the one who will supply the answer.