I published my first Dungeons & Dragons adventure this week. I had a lot of fun muddling around to put it together and put it out there, so I figured I’d capture a few reflections on the things I (probably should but inevitably have not) learned:
Converting Fairy Tales
The adventure is inspired by the version of the folk tale Conall Yellowclaw that Joseph Jacobs recorded in his 1892 volume, Celtic Fairy Tales. I love Jacobs’ fairy tale collections, they’re not super childish but not pretentiously academic either. This particular story involves Conall Yellowclaw setting off to steal a horse, getting caught, and earning pardon from execution (!!) for each of his sons and himself by telling increasingly wild stories from his adventuring days. “This should be pretty easy to copy & paste directly into an encounter-heavy adventure format,” I thought to myself. It might surprise precisely no one to hear that I thought wrong.
In the original story, Conall is off to steal this horse on the behest of the King of Erin because the Yellowclaw sons have killed the king’s son in a fight. Fine. Pretty common occurrence in Celtic and British folklore, as it turns out. But my aim was to write a light-hearted, rollicking, folksy adventure – opening with a death didn’t really seem to support that vibe.
The small analytical accountant inside me that still refuses to be silenced was also Not Dealing Well with the idea that the King of Erin would quite happily forgive someone kidnapping (née murdering) his son just because they brought him a nice racehorse. So I added a backstory, and that necessitated adding some faerie lore, and then there was need for a big bad, and then… It was about this time that the adventure became “inspired by” rather than “based on” the story of Conall Yellowclaw.
Lesson. To properly capture the vibe of the source material, sometimes you need to be less faithful to the letter of it.
The Quest For Perfect Art
I’m not an artist. I like scribbling and can waste a whole weekend playing around in photoshop, but the very idea of Creating An Art is quite anxiety inducing. On the other hand, this is my first published adventure and I don’t have an audience to speak of, so I couldn’t justify an art budget for something bespoke. Public domain images to the rescue! Unsurprisingly, it turns out there are a lot of fairy tale illustrations in the public domain – and some of them are simply amazing. However they are, for the most part, black and white illustrations and I felt that was going to fall flat; I wanted some colour and vibrancy. Several hours of scrolling through oldbookillustrations.com and one obsessive weekend of digital colouring later, I’ve got some pieces I’m quite pleased with. It took me far longer to get output of lower quality than it would for a skilled artist, of course, but I’m still chuffed with myself.
Lesson. Take what’s available and add something of yourself to it. It doesn’t need to be perfect to be a perfect fit for the thing it’s meant to be.
Publishing And Small Print
I originally created two versions of the adventure: a 5e version to publish on the Dungeon Masters Guild (DMG) and a system agnostic, WotC IP free, version to publish on itch.io (because thank god there are systems that aren’t D&D). Someone on twitter very kindly pointed out that this was potentially contravening the DMG Community Content Agreement (CCA) and while surely I, as a responsible adult, had read the CCA before accepting it perhaps I should review again just in case…
I have no defence for not reading the CCA properly – I live in the world and therefore know it’s a stupidity to not read the small print before signing anything that relates to money – but the fact is that I just hadn’t. I was relying on the DMG licencing FAQs that heavily emphasise the IP you create is your own, which I feel contradicts the (initially unread) CCA clause: Except for short promotional excerpts used to promote your Work, you may not display, recreate, publish, distribute or sell your Work (or derivatives thereof) outside of the Program administered on OBS websites or through other platforms or channels authorized or offered by Owner. [emphasis added].
It’s been a long time since first-year business law, and I’ve not the motivation to investigate or challenge the enforceable limits of the CCA, so I’ve taken the system agnostic version down. Now I just need to review my ‘games to write’ list and target the most appropriate publishing platform for each.
Lesson. Read the T&Cs. Just do it. You know you’re supposed to.
Style Guide Freestyling
When it comes to editing other people’s work, I am firmly Lawful Good (or possibly – if you ask my editing clients – Lawful Evil). Problem is, WotC’s D&D style guide calls for American English and it turns out that while I can deal with this 95% of the time, I can’t bring myself to spell it “armor” (though did I flip back and forth about five times during layout, so I’d be surprised if there aren’t a few rogue typos still in there). Not something, I’m sure, that anyone else cares about at all, I just find it funny the tiny hills my brain will surprise decide to die on.
Lesson. Rebel! Be unique! Break free of grammar’s tyrannical rule!
There’s much more I’d happily blather on about, but I’ve got to save something for twitter and pub blather…
By the way, if you want to check out the adventure, you can find it at: https://www.dmsguild.com/product/396225/Conall-Yellowclaws-Quest