Why are adventures “one and done”?
As designers, we pour our hearts and souls into our adventures. We (hopefully figuratively) shed blood, wear our fingers to the bone, and make sacrifices large and small to create the best adventures we can. Inevitably, however, during the design process, we make compromises, run out of time, run out of words, or just don’t think of something that would make the project better. As we work on subsequent projects, our design skills grow, and we produce objectively better work.
Despite all this, we rarely revisit, revise, and upgrade our creations even though we could almost certainly do a better job the second (or third) time around.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” If we assume Hemingway knew what he was on about, why don’t we practise incremental design in our modules? Why don’t we return to and polish and improve our older works? Are we doing our customers a disservice by not doing so?
I see great value in returning to the same adventure (or other book) again and again. With each iteration, the product gets better. With each iteration, the format and layout improve. With each iteration, the number of typos and other errors decreases. New material is added. Surely, these are good things?
Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands
Raging Swan Press published Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands back in 2012. That’s over a decade ago! A lot has changed in a decade.
In 2022, Raging Swan Press released a 5e-compatible edition of Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands. We also included new maps, new art, added the town of Dulwich and included additional notes on the area surrounding the keep. Finally, we brought all these changes and upgrades to the Pathfinder 1 edition of the adventure.
The 2022 edition is objectively better in every way than the 2012 edition.
But the adventure could be even better. It could become the setting for a full-on mini-campaign or a larger sandbox adventure. I could enlarge and expand it.
- When I designed the Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands back in 2012, I left open the possibility of further adventures under the Shadowed Keep by providing means to access the tunnels and caverns buried deep below the ruin’s cellars. Such locations are ripe for adventure.
- The Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs is also set close to Dulwich. When I designed the adventure, I had it in mind as a “starter dungeon” for new characters and players that could feed into the Shadowed Keep.
- I could expand Dulwich and provide more details on the notable locales in the town. (In fact, I have alreadydone this through a series of Patreon-exclusive Mini-Eventures—clearly, my subconscious was at work on the concept of incremental design before the idea muscled its way into the front of my brain.)
- I could add side treks, Dungeon Backdrops and eventures to Dulwich and its surrounds.
The adventure could be so much more.
Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands Sample Roadmap
Here’s what a road map for Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands might look like under the auspices of incremental design:
- Late 2023: Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (OSR edition) released. This means the adventure is now available in 5e, OSR and Pathfinder 1 editions. The 5e and Pathfinder 1 editions benefit from another editing pass.
- Early 2024: The Dulwich section of the adventure expands with the inclusion of all the mini-eventures set in the town.
- Late 2024: Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands (Pathfinder 2 edition) released. This means the adventure is now available in 5e, OSR, Pathfinder 1 and Pathfinder 2 editions.
- Early 2025: Shunned Valley of the Three Tombs and new linking material added to all four editions of the adventure.
- Late 2025: Level 1 of the caves below the Shadowed Keep’s dungeon added to all four editions of the adventure.
- Early 2026: Level 2 of the caves below the Shadowed Keep’s dungeon added to all four editions of the adventure.
Subsequent releases could feature more minor adventures in the locality, adventures in Dulwich or even deeper caves. The characters could claim the keep as their own or be gifted it by Wido Gall, ruler of Dulwich. They would have to repair the ruin, pacify the surrounding territory and so on. This development opens the door to a whole new set of adventures. The characters could use the keep as a base from which to explore the mysterious Forest of Gray Spires.
Realities, Conclusions & Questions
But adding all these elements to the adventure takes planning, time, effort and skill. An increased page count necessitates more words, more layout, more art and more maps. Those things are not free. The project has to be commercially viable.
With all that in mind, I want to return to the Shadowed Keep, but I want to return to the adventure in a way that guarantees I don’t rush my design. I want to augment and expand the adventure without the project taking over my life and pushing everything else to the sidelines. I want to work on the Shadowed Keep without having to constantly worry about the financial realities of not releasing a major new product or abandoning Raging Swan Press’s ongoing release schedule. I want to practise incremental design.
I’m not yet sure how to do this. There are many questions to answer. However, I’m unlikely to find the answer to those questions without starting.
I’d love to know what you think. Is the idea of incremental module design a good idea? Is the idea of incremental module a bad idea? Let me know what you think.