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Shameless Self-Promotion: Places by the Way for D&D 5E

posted Nov 8, 2016, 3:12 AM by Douglas Sun   [ updated Nov 8, 2016, 3:13 AM ]
I've been talking for a while about launching a Kickstarter campaign. It's almost ready for review and I hope to launch it by the end of this week. So there's not much point in delaying the reveal any longer:

The open license for D&D 5th Edition has convinced me to return to writing for roleplaying games after a long and wistful absence. I turn to Kickstarter to help me jumpstart a series of short modules called Places by the Way, and self-published under the Ramen Sandwich Press trade name. Some of them will work fine as short stand-alone adventures, but as I write in the product introduction, each Places by the Way module is meant to be a kit for creating a memorable interlude in a larger campaign.

Each entry in the series will consist of two versions sold separately but similar in content. One version will be set in the Forgotten Realms; as such it will be sold exclusively through the Dungeon Master’s Guild. The other version assumes a generic setting and complies with WotC’s OGL. It will be sold through DriveThru RPG and a print version will be sold through Amazon and other online outlets.

I started working on Places by the Way on the spur of the moment. But on reflection, I can see that the series has two inspirations.

One is the line of mini-adventures that AEG published as part of the D&D 3rd Edition OGL boom. I recall that the word count for those modules was only 5,000 words and they were, basically, pamphlets. I wrote three: The Wreck of the Venerable Drake, Gottheit and The Caravan City of Azul. I don’t think any of them sold terribly well. But they suggested to me that the short form could be made to work in adventure modules as it does in fiction. That is to say, if the typical folio-sized module is the novel, and the hardcover campaign books that WotC is publishing for 5th Edition are epics, there should be also be a place for the module equivalent of short stories.

The other inspiration is the strangely important role that side quests play in what we now recognize as standard CRPG structure. Side quests are those little tasks that you can find in almost every section of the game world, and while they have no direct bearing on the main story, they allow you to accumulate XP, money and items, and meet memorable NPCs. They’re essentially throwaways, but if they’re done well they can add a lot to the game experience.

Fallout remains one of my very favorite CRPGs. One of the first things about it that jumps back into my mind is Tandi, the Shady Sands girl voiced so perfectly by Cree Summer. Her wistful musing about the outside world convey the fallen melancholy of that game world so beautifully that it made me forget all about finding that water filter.

In writing this, I realize that my goal in creating Places by the Way is that somewhere in the series, I will create an NPC encounter that has an effect like that. My disadvantage is that I won’t have a talented voice artist to help. But I’m going to try to create a moment in a campaign that will be memorable out of proportion to its role as a diversion.

The first entry in Places by the Way describes a farming village that faces a threat to its existence massing in the wilderness just beyond its cleared fields. The Forgotten Realms version is called In the Shadow of The High Forest; the OGL version is called The Village of Darkharrow. Both versions offer 14 numbered locations, each of which offers an encounter, noteworthy items, noteworthy NPCs or an opening into which you can hook your existing campaign. The PCs may choose to help a farmer clear his field of ankhegs, buy some potent herbal cures, and move on. Or they choose to delve beneath the surface of village life, the second half of the module presents conditional series of events that lead to a boss encounter with a twist, with Darkharrow’’s fate at stake.