It’s 2am, I’ve been working on this project for two weeks. Total written content was 682 words, not something that normally takes two weeks, but I was also teaching myself how to use Adobe InDesign. The frame for the text I was using wouldn’t center correctly. It kept shifting, cutting words off, or scrambling the text. I’d have yelled at my computer, but my 3 year old was sleeping in the next room, and I didn’t want to wake her. Finally, 1:59 on the clock, I realized there was another frame on the page, that until I clicked it was invisible, and it was causing all my problems. Less than a minute later, the project was done and I almost wept for joy.
Over the last year, I’ve been creating One Pagers, short, one-page of text adventures for various roleplaying games. These are designed as a way to start a campaign, or drop a short side adventure into an ongoing campaign. My business partner at High Level Games, Quinn C. Moerike had turned me onto the idea. Something like this had been developed in the old TSR days. I’m told (because I was not into D&D at the time) that you could buy these one-page sheets for a dollar or so, or get a pack of them as short adventures to use for a session. We talked briefly about creating these, and within 48 hours I had the main text for my first One Pager, A Cat’s Meow, written. Over the next few weeks, we edited, updated, expanded and cut the piece to get to the exact length and format we were looking for. We brought on a layout artist, and then we created versions of the One Pager for almost every system that has an OGL or similar creation license.
Link to Two One-Pagers so you know what I’m talking about: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/212927/Cats-Meow-A-One-Page-Adventure-for-the-Worlds-Greatest-RolePlaying-Game?affiliate_id=235787
What’s the Hardest Part?
Creating a one-page adventure sounds pretty easy, in theory. Keeping things straight-forward, but fun, is hard. Most GM’s that have created their own adventures have cool ideas that have percolated, or been put into action. Getting that concept onto one page, with enough detail to run the adventure is not easy. Since I created my first One-Pager, we’ve worked with our staff at HLG to create five more of them. Nearly everyone started with a draft that was at least three pages of text long. All of these ideas were awesome, but sticking with our goal of one page, meant we have to take a serious look at the essential elements, and cut until we get to the core of what a GM would need to run these stories. I recommend creating a short outline, 1, 2, 3, these are the things we need to have to make this story work. From there, cut, cut, cut. Shorten sentences, focus on the key information, focus on using words the encapsulate an entire idea to make a sentence more effective.
What’s the Easiest Part?
There isn’t one. Writing a short adventure is harder than you’d think it is. The easiest part is getting the project out the door. Your planning, writing, and editing is probably much shorter than a traditional RPG project. Your goal is to focus on getting something like this out at a high quality, in a short turn around. Development expansion time is inevitable in most projects for RPGs, but the size of these projects means you can do a lot, in a shorter space of time if you focus and get it done.
Why One Page?
These One-Pagers are designed as a gateway for a GM that needs some ideas. You aren’t creating an entire game for them. You aren’t handing them Curse of Strahd and telling them to run with it. You are handing them a single page, and saying, here’s a way to get started. Here’s an idea for that night where you’ve worked 60 hrs but you still want to run D&D (or Cypher, or Savage Worlds, or Pathfinder). A one page adventure gives you a boost, and it's a great tool for the first time GM. You might not have EVERYTHING you need in one page, but you do have the start of an idea.
Focus on Setting and Tools
Plot is essential to a one pager, but you want to focus more on providing a set-piece for the GM to use with some simple plot elements for them to expand on, utilize, or integrate into their greater idea. A location, NPC, or an item are a great thing to build your one-pager around. From there, you create a reason to interact with the NPC, location, or item. Focusing on the set allows the GM using the one-pager to adjust, add, or delete as needed to fit their campaign. You’ve got to balance this against creating enough material for the GM to grab your one-pager and run it.
Should I make One?
The easy answer is yes. The longer answer is, do you have the time to write something effective, but short? You might spend 3 hours writing, 10 hours editing, and 20 hours doing layout to get a project right. Our One-Pagers are sold for $1. We can’t sell them for much more and have it be a good deal for the purchaser. So, you’ve got to ask yourself if that labor is worth it to you? If so, then do it. Price your work at a rate you think is fair, and go from there. These might be a way for your to get your feet wet in the RPG publishing space, but you’ve got to do it well. Phoning in a product is a sure way to get ignored by other creators and companies. Focus on getting your first product to be the best thing it can be, and go from there.
If you’ve got other questions, ideas, or an interest in working on something like this. Reach out to High Level Games. We are happy to talk about bringing your game to the next level.
Josh Heath is the Chief Operations Officer for High Level Games. He’s also the owner of Reach-Out Roleplaying Games, the administrator of The Inclusive Gaming Network, and a Captain for CHARIOT LARP. He’s currently gearing up to be a storyteller for a Werewolf: The Apocalypse table-top game and he’s a major World of Darkness fan.
Image by Michael Prescott, http://blog.trilemma.com