Turns out this is a busy time of year, and keeping up on a regular blog post is a little challenging. My apologies—I really had planned to finish up this little retrospective series before the end of the year. Juggling the Primeval Thule print job, our PDF accessories, and shifting Sasquatch to a new distribution partner wound up absorbing a ton of my time and attention over the last few weeks. Plus, there was an exciting new development this month: My agent sold the first three books of my Sikander North military sci-fi series to Tor Books!
So what exactly is Sikander North? About a year ago, I found myself with a good writing window and asked myself a simple question: If I could write anything I wanted, what would I write? I decided that since I enjoy sci-fi with plenty of military action, “geopolitics,” and thriller trappings, that’s what I ought to focus on. So I came up with a take on the future that’s inspired by the Great Power rivalries of the late 19th century and the dreadnought era, and a character that I could write some fun stories about (the aforementioned Sikander North). Valiant Dust, the first book in the series, should debut in 2017—it’s almost done now, but I need to do one last set of revisions for Tor.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to write Forgotten Realms novels, it’s always been my goal to break out of the shared-world reservation and write my own stuff. So, as you might imagine, this is a very exciting bit of news for me. I’ll keep you posted on the progress!
Okay, on to the meat and potatoes of the blog post today: My ongoing look back at adventures I’ve worked on over the years.
#29: Lost Mine of Phandelver
About two years ago, I decided to part ways with Goblinworks and focus on Primeval Thule, my own writing, and freelancing work as the opportunity presented itself. (I liked Goblinworks just fine, but the 75-minute commute each way was stealing too much of my day.) Anyway, I sent a note to Chris Perkins at Wizards of the Coast to let him know I had some bandwidth to take on any work he might have, and it turns out Chris had just the right project: the adventure that would be included in the new D&D Starter Set for 5e. I’d worked on 5e for a few months right at the end of my time on-staff at WotC, so I was happy to dive in and pick it up again.
The opportunity to work on an adventure that appears early in an edition’s life cycle is both fun and challenging. It’s fun because you know that a lot of people are going to see it, and some of your work is going to wind up becoming a touchstone of shared experience across many thousands of D&D players. I wound up writing the second adventure in both 3e and 4e (those being Forge of Fury and Thunderspire Labyrinth), plus Reavers of Harkenwold in 4e Essentials Dungeon Master’s Kit. It’s cool to create starting towns and introduce monsters and villains that players might be seeing for the first time ever. The challenging part is that writing early in an edition—potentially before the core rulebooks are published—means that some things just haven’t been figured out yet. The encounter-building rules and treasure rules that would appear in the 5e Dungeon Master’s Guide weren’t even close to finished when I worked on the 5e Starter Set.
The other challenging part was that Wizards of the Coast provided me a list of “make sure you include X” about as long as my arm. There were dozens of locales in that corner of the Sword Coast that WotC wanted to touch on, a bucket of old Realms lore, different types of dungeons, a mix of combat, exploration, and roleplaying . . . I kind of started to think of the mission statement as “write the kitchen sink adventure.” That daunted me a bit at first, but then I realized that it actually dovetailed nicely with the idea of a wide-open sandbox, which is probably the strongest and best example to give a new DM on how adventures should be put together. Plus, these days, new D&D players are almost certainly coming to the tabletop game after years of experience in World of Warcraft or console games featuring ideas like “quest hubs.” Creating a D&D adventure for beginners that used those expectations effectively made a lot of sense.
So, with that in mind, I looked through all the material WotC had dropped on my desk, and winnowed down the list of locales and elements to something I could fit in the space I had to work with. Borrowing a bit of Realmslore, I decided to “hide” the final dungeon (the mines of Phandelver proper) and make the finding of that dungeon the major story thread tying together the earlier pieces. As it turns out, the story of the Phandelver Pact, Phandalin, and that little era of the history of the North is actually quite confusing and contradictory in places, so I had to work pretty hard to present something that was not too deep in Realmslore for a casual FR fan to understand. In a perfect world I actually would have omitted a lot of that material, but fitting the new adventure into existing Realmslore was important to WotC (and me, too, to be honest). I was also handcuffed a bit by things like the requirement to feature the banshee Agatha but not let her fight the PCs and making sure all the player factions got into the mix—nothing that was really onerous, just a bit more complicated and nitpicky than I would have liked.
When I was close to wrapping up the adventure, Chris Perkins asked me for a title suggestion. I just drew a blank. This was a kitchen-sink adventure, after all, and it was hard to figure out what it was *about.* The best I could come up with was something like “The Lost Mine,” but that felt super-generic. Since I couldn’t come up with a title hinting at the sort of activities or plots the heroes were facing or a clever twist on a well-known turn of phrase that would apply, I settled for adding a proper noun that would at least make the title distinctive. I thought the suggestion was weak and I figured WotC would brainstorm up a better one, but it stuck. So, there you have it: Lost Mine of Phandelver. Sorry if you don’t like the name.
Next Time: Primeval Thule!