A Long Overdue Update and a New D&D Thing

Cthulhu Scribe by Drew Pocza

Hey folks, it’s been a couple of months. Three conventions and multiple continents later, and I’m back at my desk. We went to Helsinki, Finland for RopeCon, and had two weeks or so to scramble before the 50th Anniversary of Gen Con. Following that? We came home for Geek*Kon, too. I have a lot I want to talk about here on the blog, work to revive my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, and deadlines climbing all over my face. Yes, deadlines may be spiders–far creepier if I let them pass by!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time getting centered again, in part because waiting on certain projects/contracts really affected my productivity. I’ve got a few pieces to nail down in September, but most of my work is fully caught up. Now, it’s just a matter of focusing on milestone deadlines, and I’m good. Thankfully, my travel schedule is slowing down this Fall intentionally; I have a lot of art I want to do and unfortunately blogging plus conventions plus deadlines plus having a life got to be too much.

I’m hoping to announce some of the major bits soon enough. Yes, they include fiction! Non-fiction! And games! My business plan’s goals are definitely congealing, but I’ve learned a key thing that I didn’t account for: traditional publishing is slower than I expected it to be. That means, at least for the time being, I’ll continue to work in games and find other venues to publish in. I can always hope for the best while planning for the worst. Accommodating for growth has been a learning curve, because contracts can be either feast or famine. The key, for me, is to have a schedule that’s well-balanced, and that can be hard when factoring in money, family, health. Too bad Siri doesn’t manage that, too.

Speaking of “the absolute worst”, the news is dim, grim, and I’m so sorry to hear how many of you are affected by flooding, fires, etc. Many of my peers and co-workers are impacted by what’s happening, and that’s affecting their families, friends, deadlines, and travel. I don’t know what will happen long-term, especially if we continue to stick our heads in the sand that the climate is changing, but I have faith that we will continue to pitch in and help each other out. To that end, the first comic I wrote is included in a digital bundle of comics to benefit Hurricane Harvey victims. Proceeds from the Feeding America Hurricane Bundle will go to Feeding America, one of many disaster relief organizations DriveThruComics.com partners with.

And last but not least, I’m woefully behind on updating my publications and ensuring those materials are up-to-date. This week, a new adventure for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition went live on DMsGuild.com. Over the Edge, which I co-authored with Shawn Merwin, is now available. This adventure is part of the Adventurer’s League and represents the most recent season. It is jam-packed with the possibility for adventure, and each section plays in about an hour–more if you’re like me and enjoy some great storytelling!

I will have more to talk about next week, and will start critiquing Iron Fist. For now, hang in there.

Mood: It’s fall. There’s pumpkin spice everything.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Uh, I had more water than caffeine. This is my ashamed face.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Lots of steps.
In My Ears: Coffee house music. It’s very soothing. Zzzzzzzzzz…
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Loads for work.
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: Over the Edge for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Dagger of Spiragos for Scarred Lands.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest
project update. New project update coming when I get time.

[New Release] In Volo’s Wake Now Available

D&D Ampersand

Back in November 2016, I announced that I worked on In Volo’s Wake to celebrate the release of Volo’s Guide to Monsters. The adventure was first released at GameHoleCon for D&D’s Adventurer’s League, and was then available to play as as a store exclusive.

I’m happy to report that In Volo’s Wake is now available for all fans of D&D! This set of adventures was designed for beginner players; there are tons of notes for DMs to draw from to modify encounters and have a little (hopefully a lot!) of fun.

The town of Phandalin, nestled in the foothills to the east of the Sword Mountains, continues to grow since being rebuilt after the devastation wrought by rampaging orc hordes. It recently survived violent gang activity, drow machinations, and even the attention of a green dragon.

But can it withstand a new threat, bizarre but no less perilous: the fame brought by a visit from none other than loremaster Volothamp Geddarm?

If you’re interested, you can hop on over to DMsGuild.com to purchase a digital copy of the adventure or through the Flamesrising.com Shop. I’m sure your fellow adventurers would love to hear your thoughts on this adventure, too, if you get the chance to play it. Enjoy!

My Dragon Talk Appearance and a D&D-inspired Creative Prompt

D&D Ampersand

“Heeeeeeeeyyyyyy yoooooooouuuuuuu guuuuuuuuyyyyyyssssss!” to quote Goonies. Greg Tito and Shelly Mazzanoble, two fine and upstanding individuals over at Dungeons & Dragons, invited me to speak on Dragon Talk, the official D&D podcast.

“Shelly Mazzanoble and Greg Tito speak to Monica Valentinelli, a prolific creative writer with heavy involvement in all forms of D&D from adventure writing to running and playing games with new players. In Lore You Should Know – Matt Sernett and Chris Perkins jump into the Yawning Portal.” — SOURCE: Monica Valentinelli on D&D

The article has three different ways you can listen to me babble on excitedly. I hope you find my talk valuable!

D&D-Inspired Creative Prompt

One of the things we talked about in the podcast, was that character motivations help to make adventures stronger. Sure, your players might want a MacGuffin. Why do they want that loot beyond re-selling it or using it to have more power?

Often, a MacGuffin in a D&D adventure translates into a kick-ass piece of loot the party earns after slaying monsters, that is then used by the characters to increase their effectiveness. The conversation about MacGuffins, however, evolves when applied to fiction. “In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin or maguffin) is a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot,” as defined by Wikipedia.

TVTropes.org has a slightly different (and a little more blunt) definition for MacGuffin: “A plot device which nobody actually uses, and whose nature and identity are basically irrelevant.”

Creative Prompt: Why Would You Use a MacGuffin?

With this in mind, my creative prompt today is a step-by-step process to examine the MacGuffin and put it to good use in an adventure or a story. *rim crash*.

(1) In 300 words or less, create a unique MacGuffin that has an interesting history.
(2) Figure out ten reasons why someone (or some thing) would want to use that MacGuffin. Don’t be afraid to think creatively about this; avoid the obvious!
(3) Identify the location of the MacGuffin and decide if that loot is protected.

For Dungeon Masters:

(4) Tie each reason from Step 2 to a character in the adventuring party or an NPC. Consider using NPCs from factions as well, to flesh out monsters, townsfolk, and other types of antagonists.
(5) Determine who (or what) could be affected by using the MacGuffin. This can be a list tying back to your NPC motivations, but it can also be towns filled with innocents, etc. This serves to ground you, as the DM, to understand the cost of using the MacGuffin for better or for ill.
(6) Write a one-paragraph summary of an adventure based on using that MacGuffin. Think “big picture”. This is what your adventure will be about; it also means that finding the MacGuffin should happen early on, and using the MacGuffin causes interesting problems the party will have to resolve.
(7) Now, break up that adventure into an outline of sessions and scenes–as many as it takes. This’ll give you the foundation for a campaign, but will also tie motivations together for your party, their allies, and their rivals to give it a little oomph.
(8) Play!

For authors:

(4) Assign motivations to use the MacGuffin for three characters: a hero, a sidekick/love interest, and a villain. Use the goals that are the most at odds with each other, to increase conflict.
(5) Steps 5-8 are all about brainstorming! Write down a list of obstacles preventing your characters from using the MacGuffin, and ways they might overcome them or fail. For example, say the MacGuffin is a magical item, but your hero doesn’t/can’t perform magic. As another, the MacGuffin could only be used by the descendant of its original owner; that character is either the villain or they’ve already passed on. What creative solutions can you figure out to resolve those issues and get your characters using the MacGuffin in your story?
(6) What happens when the MacGuffin is used? Who stands to be helped by it? Hurt?
(7) What needs to happen in order to “turn off” the MacGuffin’s power?
(8) What do the characters involved stand to lose/gain by the loss of the MacGuffin? (Like Step 6, this is another way of helping you determine the stakes for your story.)
(9) Write a one-to-two paragraph summary of your plot. Don’t forget to figure out a few possible endings ahead of time! These will probably come out of brainstorming for Step 7.
(10) Cue… Writing to form! (e.g. short story or flash fiction)

If using a MacGuffin doesn’t sound interesting to you as a plot device, you can always figure out what else you’d want to do with it. You could destroy or create a powerful object that has evolved from its MacGuffin-esque roots, instead. Keep in mind that destroying, creating, designing, and piecing together objects also run the risk of turning them into MacGuffins if your characters either don’t use them, or you don’t have a reason for doing so for your plot. In other words: it shouldn’t simply be an object everybody’s after. Even in Lord of the Rings, Frodo’s goal might be to destroy the One Ring to save the world, but he does use it for different reasons and that creates problems for him. Though your opinions might vary on this, to me the One Ring is a fantastic example of a MacGuffin-turned-plot device because it a) is unique, b) is used by Sauron (past), Isildur (past), Frodo, Bilbo, and Gollum, and c) matters to the overall story. Arguably, I could take that a step further and say that the One Ring is its own character, too, since it represents the will of Sauron–but that’s a nerdtastic discussion for another day.

Happy writing!

    Mood: Critical hit! Heh, heh.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Four… Five? Cups of coffee. Hey, it’s cold.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Vacuuming counts. Right?
    In My Ears: The heater, because it is freakishly cold.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Inquisition
    Book Last Read: Research materials for work.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
    Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
    Latest Releases: Read my end-of-the-year list of releases for an overview of what I’ve put out for 2016. Check out Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling and, if you like it, consider leaving a review.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update.

Announcing In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons


To celebrate the November 15th release of the upcoming supplement Volo’s Guide to Monsters pictured above, a new Adventurer’s League module called In Volo’s Wake was released to friendly local game stores on November 4th.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that I was one of the writers on this set of mini-adventurers along with my kickass developer, Shawn Merwin, and Rich Lescouflair. In Volo’s Wake will be available online at a later date. I’ll share a link with you on my blog when it is. For now, if you want to check it out–head on over to your friendly local game store and ask them about it. Wahoo!

[New Games Release] Battle for the Undercity for D&D 5E

Battle for the Undercity

Today, I am pleased to announce the release of Battle for the Undercity, a D&D 5th Edition adventure I designed and wrote for a DM’s use in any Forgotten Realms™ campaign. Rules and editing were provided by Scarred Lands developer Scott Holden. This adventure, which is available on the new www.dmsguild.com website, would not have been possible without Wizards of the Coast’s recent announcement.

Despite wearing multiple hats in the gaming industry for over a decade, this adventure is my first foray into writing for Dungeons and Dragons, and I had a lot of fun designing it and the monster variants. The adventure is right in line with my design philosophy as a writer and gamer myself: providing value, which is what (I hope!) is reflected in the final result. So, for my first adventure I wanted to write something that could be run in any city found in the Forgotten RealmsTM with an underlying theme with a variable mood that can be amplified or downplayed according to the locations and characters the party encounters. Designing locations, characters, monster variants, plots… These sorts of things come very easily to me, which means my writing output is all that much faster, when the structure is established. (GAH! As I’m writing this, I’m getting all excited designing a new, experimental hybrid structure… DOWN BRAIN BUNNIES, DOWN!)

Regardless, I feel every writer (aspiring or established) benefits from the quality and structure of the existing D&D 5E material–and that is a no b.s. comment. I wouldn’t have written an adventure that has no guarantee of benefiting me creatively or professionally if I wasn’t impressed with it, and I feel it’s easier to manage expectations based on pre-existing material. My decisions to do future adventures and material will depend upon sales, because I do need to make up costs in order for this to be viable since I’m writing full-time. ‘Course, writing this wouldn’t have been possible without playing 5E myself, since this is a different style of game than what I normally work on.

Battle for the Undercity takes place underground in a section of a major city. The party will navigate sewers, worked tunnels, forgotten crypts, and freshly dug passageways to fend off adversaries in order to rescue hostages and return them safely to the surface unharmed. Can your party emerge victorious and save the day?

In this adventure you will find:

  • Adventure background and hooks
  • Map to the Undercity
  • Detailed location guide
  • Suggestions to increase and decrease the Challenge Rating
  • Advice to customize the adventure to your party
  • New! Crimson Coins thieves’ faction and characters
  • New! Ten Legs tribe, Goblin Beast-Master, and Beast-Rider monster variants
  • New! Corrupted Shield-Guardian monster variant
  • New! Ancient Revenant monster variant

This adventure includes three, separate three-to-four hour long missions that can be run in any order, depending upon the needs and composition of your party members. While this was designed as an adventure module for 7th- to 9th-level characters to be run in the recommended timeframe, you will find notes to adjust the missions to increase or decrease their difficulty and length.

If you’re interested in supporting my work, buy a copy of Battle for the Undercity.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

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