Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Alone in the Infinite Cathedral

I really did mean to set aside work on programmed solitaire roleplaying game adventures after finishing The Asturia Incident. Even during that project I briefly detoured to revise my old Trapped in the Museum solo scenario for the OpenD6 system on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. After those forays into solo adventure gamebook writing I’d wanted to return to my long-neglected Infinite Cathedral project: a medieval roleplaying game setting bound to no particular game engine. And yet I now find myself tackling the challenge of creating a system-neutral programmed solitaire scenario. At least it’s serving as an introduction to the Infinite Cathedral and will hopefully fuel my enthusiasm for the main project ahead.

Frequent readers know I enjoy solitaire games of many kinds. Working on The Asturia Incident scratched several of my creative itches: the urge to work on a longer solo gamebook; channeling inspiration from science-fiction sources I admired; and a chance to develop game material using the OpenD6 system. Revising Trapped in the Museum also satisfied some of these desires. Neither one proved terribly fulfilling in the category of sales – I’m slowly resigning myself to accepting the reality of various related issues – but I found them personally satisfying...and if someone else enjoys them, too, well, that’s icing on the cake. After completing these projects I had intended to return to development and writing on The Infinite Cathedral, a system-neutral medieval roleplaying game setting I’ve had percolating in the back of my head for years.

The project has meandered through several formats in my head and on paper (so to speak): first a traditional sourcebook only, then as a possible core book with subscription supplements structured for a Patreon release; then back to the introductory sourcebook with additional short releases – folios or treatises, depending on the length – building on that foundation. The work isn’t simply reformatting and reorganizing, it’s coalescing old versions of chapters into one text and revising the whole into a single “Seeker’s Primer” core setting book. Along the way I’m engaged in lots of revision and self-editing, exploring new ideas that developed since I last looked at sections, and reevaluating how I present core information. I’m still a long way from either completion or being happy with much of it.

My work took a further detour when I decided to revise the brief “Isle of Vintares” setting and put it together as a test for graphic design and formatting intended for The Infinite Cathedral. As usual, the response and feedback to that project has been uninspiringly minimal, even if I personally felt the result worked well and proved a solid dry-run for future Infinite Cathedral layout.

And now I’ve diverted again, though at least I’m working on content related to The Infinite Cathedral. The short solo adventure I’m creating drops player’s low-level medieval fantasy characters right into the unfamiliar setting. Right from the start they begin their explorations, interacting with some of the denizens and trying to figure out the “rules” of their new environment. It’s helping me focus on core setting themes: displacement and isolation, survival, exploration. I’m also finding enjoyment in exploring more whimsical choices and outlandish interactions, most reflecting the setting’s more unpredictable aspects. Few things make me smile like when I write a solo adventure choice such as “You try talking with the goats (go to 15).”

I’m revisiting the way I present and format programmed solitaire adventures, a notable challenge since – unlike solo tutorial adventures meant to both introduce a setting and demonstrate a particular game’s mechanics – I’m working without the framework of an established rules system. I’m often faced with how to present rules functions with language generic enough to cover most fantasy roleplaying games without referring to a specific one, yet clear enough so readers know how to navigate it with their preferred game engine. For guidance I’m referencing a few system-neutral adventures, though many still refer to core game concepts like saving throws, ability checks, and armor class. But overall the process results in me agonizing over wording until I find just the right phrase.

It’s easy for me to lose myself in solo adventure writing. In a way it’s like gamemastering, albeit in advance and in absentia. I have some basic story elements in mind, a few potential scenes to play out, and larger goals in terms of atmosphere and theme. When designing a setting one presents elements gamemasters can use in crafting adventures, providing a host of story ingredients to use and modify in different combinations. Like gamemastering, programmed scenario writing focuses on specific player and character experiences incorporating setting components. It allows me to flex my creative abilities, occasionally indulge my mischievous nature, and map out possible courses of action and their repercussions (though certainly the programmed solo adventure format severely limits any illusion of tactical infinity).

I realize I’m diverting myself from a greater, more challenging task. Yet I feel the Infinite Cathedral solo adventure serves both as an introduction for readers as well as a warm-up for me, stretching my creative muscles and inspiring me to tackle the setting sourcebook...and beyond.

1 comment:

  1. You can always try to do the same as Dean from Cthulhu Reborn with their Dateline Lovecraft line of books. They create first a source for adventures and after it sells X units, they create another addon to this, and so on, and so on. Maybe this is a way to publish things? My two cents only...


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