Monthly Archives: March 2012

From Home Campaign to Your Campaign

Welcome to anther installment of Madness Mondays, where I show you a peak behind the development of The Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad, a one-man-show product I’m working on for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

The alert among you may notice that I missed last week. That’s because I got kidney stones (and still have them as of the time of this writing) and spent a lot of the day in the hospital and doctor’s offices. I mention that just because that kind of delay is exactly the sort of thing that can badly impact a freelancer’s schedule, and if at all possible you need to make allowances for it. Since I’m working on Argonax in my spare time, it’s the first thing that gets cut if I find myself behind schedule. So I’m only three weeks into this, and I’m already two weeks behind.

However, I have gotten some work done, a little of which I’m going to share for you. Argonax is a background character from one of my campaigns, and not one that’s had much screen-time. When I’m developing ideas for use in just my own campaign, my notes are often the barest sketches, designed to remind me what I was thinking more than record everything I know about an idea. When I want to take one of those ideas and make it a professional product, one of the hardest things is to make sure I actually write down everything important, since customers will only know what I tell them. I often have an idea fully developed for my own games without writing down even 10% of what needs to go in a product designed to explain the idea to other people.

To show an example of how this works, I’m presenting my home notes on the background of Argonax the Mad, followed with my introduction to him for The Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad. The first is a throwaway line in my notes on how inevitables fit into my own games. The second is a much longer, more fleshed-out presentation that makes the idea useable by other GMs… or will once it has a lot more game rules and material to back it up!

OKCS Campaign Notes:
Three Impossible Mortals: The inevitables refer to Three Impossible Mortals: creatures that are not god, titan, outsider, or dragon, but who nevertheless manage to do things mortals are not supposed to be able to do. Despite this appearing to be a violation of the Great Machine of the Cosmos, the inevitables take no action against the 3. Lower level inevitables do not know why this is, and if senior inevitables know, they aren’t talking. The 3 Impossible Immortals are; Argonax the Mad (keeps killing & resurrecting himself to learn all possible magic & how to create artifacts), Cornelius Onitor (“Of No Interesting Title or Rank, which he shortened to O.N.I.T.O.R. when signing his maps & atlases, the founder of the Wayfarer’s League & the discoverer of the first Wendings), and The Silent Emperor (The First Kasmith, the mortal who first learned to take the Ankharan concept of the :animating” part of the soul and use it to create golems — may never communicate for he is a high priest of Sutehk & betrayed that god, so his voice is Sutehk’s voice, so if he ever communicates at all, in any way, with anyone, his patron god will find him).)

Section II of The Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad
The Mad One
Argonax the Mad is a legendary spellcaster who appears in myths and parables found the world over. While details of his existence, ranging from his race and the timeline of his life, vary in these tales, they all agree on a single point – Argonax was a powerful spellcaster who sought to rediscover what he called the art of high artifice. This theoretical magical study was supposedly the technique used to create artifacts by the gods and heroes of the ancient past, long lost to mortal craftsmen. While the reason for his endless quest to rediscover this art varies from story to story, the common thread of Argonax legends are his obsession to discover how to create artifacts at any cost, and the unspeakable price he paid in this quest.

One of the reasons tales of Argonax vary so wildly is that the mad mage concluded his quest to regain knowledge long since lost to mortals would require both more than one lifetime of study, and access to lore and instruction from long-dead weavers of magic. Thus he undertook what he called the College Obscura, a plan to teach himself the arts of all races and sages, not limiting himself to that known by the living or members of a single bloodline.

In its simplest form, the College Obscura called for Argonax to die at the end of his first natural lifetime, after casting a ritual that would allow him to roam the lands of the dead as a sapient spirit. During these deathly travels he would seek out and study at the feet of great masters of eldritch lore no longer among the living. Once he had gained all the knowledge he could from the lands of the dead, he would trigger the second part of the ritual he cast in life, and be reincarnated as a member of a new race. Through his childhood he would gradually regain the full memory of his previous life (and death), and be able to learn the secret lore kept by the sages of his new race. And when that new life came to a close, he would again perform the College Obscura ritual, allowing him to seek out new masters of magic in the lands of the dead.

According to myth, Argonax has taken this trip, through a new race’s life to the lands of the dead and back into life as a member of a new race, many times. No one can agree if he was originally a dwarf, or elf, or human, or dragon, though most stories agree he has been all these things many times by now. Of course, no living mind is designed to hold the knowledge gathered in a dozen lifetimes, and thus in each reincarnation, Argonax has become a little less sane. His skills at magic are unchanged, but his memories of his past lives is, at best, blended.

Further Argonax intends to leave no avenue unexplored in his drive to recover the art of high artifice, and thus has turned to dark and forbidden experiments in most of his lifetimes. He is credited with creating many of the hybrid monsters that plague civilization, inventing new curses, poisons, and diseases, and his failed efforts at creating artifacts are often given as the source of the most dangerous cursed magic items. Believing he must understand all aspects of magic to achieve his goal, Argonax has developed spells, hexes, and prayers designed to accomplish horrific goals for no better reason than to see if such manipulations of magic were possible. Essentially Argonax believes that if it were possible to learn the secrets he seeks through only ethical and moral means, someone would have done it by now.

This, then, is the confused legacy of Argonax the Mad, the para-living and deathly scholar, and the creator of many horrors in the name of knowledge. Though his intent is not evil, and most of his creations are more “dreadful” or “horrific” than evil, there is good reason his researches have come to be known as the Vile Magics. Argonax does not care what happens to his new spells and
techniques after he masters them, and many can easily be turned to tyrannical and evil ends.

Because of his many great successes in creating new ways to use magic, many unethical spellcasters spend considerable time seeking lore connected to Argonax the Mad and his Vile Magics. While it is certain that numerous of his creations have gone uncredited to him, and some evils created by others have been placed at his feet, Argonax has gone to some lengths to ensure he, himself, can recognize his own work. Always fearful that he would forget some eldritch trivia that would ultimately allow him to create artifacts, Argonax in every lifetime marks his workbooks and labors with his sigil – a triangle with a bloodshot eye in the center. Similarly, his spells and incantations include signature phrases and methods of controlling magic that mark them as his work.

Of course such marks can also be found by others, and have led to the rise of a dangerous cult.

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A Madman Killed the Bards. Temporarily.

“So, how’s that bard project coming along?”

Yes, I get asked this question form time to time. And it’s a fair question, since I made a big public announcement I was working on it. The short answer is “Slowly, as I’m really busy.” The short answer seems more in keeping with a Tweet than a blog post, and as a result I’ve been pretty quiet here recently.

But at some point, the lack of development because part of the development cycle, at east for a largely solo project. If you want to be a game writer or developer, and you’re writing your own projects on your own time (rather than working on someone else’s project on their deadline), you have to accept that sometimes, the project is going to be hit by big pressure to put it aside. Conventional wisdom is that you must Not Let This Happen. Make time for your project, say the Wisdomeers, make it a priority. Quitters never win, winners never quit, writers write, a journey of a thousand words begins with a single outline, and so on. And that all makes sense.

Sometimes.

In my opinion if you’re trying to build a career, you need to make sure your habits are both profitable and sustainable. By profitable I mean they advance the cause of your career. I don’t do much free writing for other people, but I do some. And earlier in my career, I did a lot of free writing. I did reviews, fan projects, playtest feedback, spec articles, and more. A lot of people nowadays advise young writers to never write anything for free, and they might be right. But I did, and it worked out well for me. I will say that if the person you are writing for expects to make money directly on your words, you should get a cut of that. But otherwise, all I can say is every bit of free writing I did was designed to advance my career (the “profit”), and the end results (having a game writer career) convince me I did a good job of it.

By “sustainable” I mean build habits you can maintain over the long term, and use to guesstimate how long projects of different sizes and different types of work will take you. That doesn’t mean you have to spend exactly two hours writing every day, and if you fall behind once you’ve failed. That works for some people, but it’s far from the only way to have a regular schedule. I tend to write in fits and spurts, and I know that about myself. I also know that I have weekly word-counts I want to hit, so if I’m more fitful than usual and halfway through the week I’m barely a fifth of the way through my word-count, I need to buckle down. But I don’t worry about having one bad day in a week – I’ve learned that’s part of my process. And I know I can maintain this process, ugly and irregular as it is, over weeks and weeks and months. I also know from long experience that I need to give myself some leeway for longer projects because at some point, my bank’s HQ is going to be hit by a hurricane, or I’ll get kidney stones again, or my family will have a death, or I’ll need to get my car’s engine replaced, or something. Life happens wether your busy or not, and I lose time when I hit a major disruption. But when I look at what I can do over a month or a quarter, I have a pretty good idea of my “sustainable” pace.

So, I have time set aside for by solo bard project… and I haven’t used it for that. Instead, some really interesting (and secret) opportunities have come along, and I’ve decided to prioritize those over my bard project. Since I know what my sustainable pace is, looking my schedule I knew I couldn’t take on the new project and keep up my bard development. Looking at the two projects, one is a unique opportunity with a limited window of participation, and the other is a vanity project that may make me some money, but is valid as long as people are playing Pathfinder. Weighing what I knew (which is rarely much when making these decisions as a freelancer – you take the information and experience you have and, and if you are smart get some other folk’s opinions, then  make your best guess) I decided to take on the new opportunity even though it meant back-burnering my bards project. The bards aren’t going anywhere, I’ll still get to them, but for now my priorities for profitable work have changed.

At the same time, something else seems to be slowly morphing into a potential solo project. I run multiple playtest campaigns as testbeds for my various Pathfinder RPG writing projects, and do a fair amount of work in them that’s never designed to be seen by the public. That’s the place where my hobby time and professional time overlap, and I often spend some time campaign building as recreation rather than work. From time to time, however, things I originally began just as background for my campaigns becomes something I want to publish. And so it is with the Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad.

I’ve got a lot of material on Argonax the Mad already written, from his history and creation of the College Obscura to the Harrowers cult, the Vile Relics, and the apex of his studies, the Craft Minor Artifact feat. I’ve got a dozen feats, a few dozen spells, a slew of magic items… almost a whole supplement worth. All it needs is time spent compiling it into one manuscript, writing introductory and connective text, and developing it with a professional eye. In short, a lot of work, but less than starting from scratch.

But as I mentioned, I’m at capacity in sustainable writing. So, how do I find the time to develop The Vile Magic of Argonax the Mad, and why can’t that time go to bards? Well the much lower work threshold means both that it won’t take as long, and that I can break the time up into smaller discrete pieces. When I’m starting a project from scratch, the early stages really call for some 4-to-6 hours blocks of focused time. When I’m compiling and editing, I can break that down into a much small chunk. So for right now, I plan to “steal” the small motes of time I have scheduled for blogging, and use them for development of Argonax the Mad. If I can write actual blog posts about what I’ve done and why, I should be able to kill two birds with one stone.

Then, bards come later. For now, look for weekly Madness Mondays as I talk about taking some campaign notes, and turning them into a publishable product.