When writing is difficult

“Everyone has a novel inside of them, and that’s perhaps the best place for it to stay,” is a witticism that I find a bit disheartening. There are quite a few people out there and judging by the number of hours humans have spent watching Gangam Style alone they have plenty of time too. Surely, someone must appreciate your drivel if they come across it at the right time in their life. If it fills a niche – however specific that niche may be – then someone must like it, somewhere out there.

On the unlikely event that there is literally no one, you can at least attempt to have fun whilst writing. Then it’s just a hobby you enjoy doing. It’s quite possible that writing a novel only you will ever read (or find worth reading) is as much as a waste of time as video games, but we still play those by the decade every day.

So, I say to you, just bloody write. Keep writing through the shit parts (you can always edit it later; another hobby to take up, perhaps) and push on for an end. A cliched end, an unsatisfying end, or even kind of meandering end that clutches to life for a few pages too long. Write your story and be glad you’ve done it. Then start on your next. That might be better, who knows.

The bad news is that getting to the end is awfully hard and I’m not sure why. I always lose interest. Often, I do have a premise that I quite like. As an example, I took Aladdin recently and tried writing it as if it were set in the future; a cyberpunk scavenger comes across a long-lost artificial intelligence which appears to have been created and then lost before it could find time to boot up. The AI so incredibly sophisticated that even today it can hack into any Internet-connected system, offering the opportunity to collect cash, information, even a cleared criminal record. That’s when the antagonist appears, someone who spots this highly intelligent algorithm poking around some servers and sets out to get their hands on it no matter the cost – and awfully, does. How will our hero get the tech back into the correct hands? Well, you know the plot of Aladdin.

I’m pretty pleased with that premise. A spin on a tale told many times before. I’ve not managed to finish it though. I’ve not managed to get past just the opening few paragraphs. I’m really unsure why.

At times like these, when a writer has an idea and can’t get it onto the page, do they just push on and crank it out? That was my very advice I just put above. Is that always the correct advice to live by though? Instead, should I decide that the story hasn’t gripped me, regardless of how interesting the idea might be, and I should just move onto the next idea?

I wonder if I keep pushing, will I get the ball rolling and start to gain a rhyme.

I suppose there’s only one way to find out.

The years after Phandalin

(I’m moving house right now and came across some notes for the start of an adventure. Maybe this will spark an idea or two for you.)

Your group has saved Phandalin. The mine has reopened and the town becomes prosperous again.

Though, doesn’t that mean there’s a new centre of cheap, magical items? What kinds of people would that draw to a relatively quiet part of Faerun?

Background: Itinerant

I realised I’ve not put anything here for a while, so I’ve been working on a quick adventure pack. It has turned out to not be quick. In the meanwhile, here’s a background I wrote for it.

I like backgrounds for two reasons (that I can think of right now):

  1. They give you some backstory immediately about your player, and an allegiance to something. Something you know your player cares about that the other players can make assumptions based of off.
  2. They allow the DM to build sticky hooks. “You forgot to pay your Guild dues, now you need to pay them back in the next 24 hours. Sidebar: All your money has just been stolen. Go make some quick cash!”

A thing I don’t like about them: the personality traits that come with them. I could do without those.


Those with arcane capabilities tend to show up right when you need them. You travel from town to town, offering minor magics as a service. Cleaning stained clothes, reattaching broken axe heads, turning over flowerbeds. Whatever services you can offer to the people who need it (and are willing to pay).

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Persuasion

Tool Proficiencies: One type of artisan’s tools

Languages: One standard language of your choice

Equipment: A set of artisan’s tools, a set of traveller’s clothes, an identifying mark of an Itinerant, a pouch containing 15 gold pieces.

Feature: For services rendered

When you arrive in a town that you’ve not previously been to (or have not been there within the past ten days), you can spend some of your down time proffering your services. These almost always are required and earn you 3d6 copper pieces.

Over time, your attendance at the town becomes expected and the people begin to look forwards to your arrival.

A doodled map with stuff on it.

I’ve been watching Boston Legal and had a piece of paper in front of me, so jotted this down.

It’s full of the politics of an area. There’s not much of a player purpose here. Maybe they’ll find a side they like the most and try and help achieve their goal alongside them. There’s a bunch of treasure around. Some oddities in burnt deserts.

For a one-shot, I think players usually make their own fun – story or no!

The colours are a whole lot more vibrant on the scanner than what I wrote drew… That red looked orange to me! The blue, black! Well, what can you do.

d12 interesting events for travelling

Traveling often doesn’t need to be part of the story. This has been talked about by people who have thought about it more than me, and the advice typically is: don’t bog the game down with traveling. There’s no need for combat to show off how dangerous the world is. There’s no need to take a whole session of play getting from A to B when you’re trying to show off how far away two points are.

Just use your words.

However, on special occaisions you might want something fun to happen during travel. Here’s a d12 list of ideas for you to use on those occaisions.

I tried to do a d20 list, but it’s actually tricky to add interesting events without distracting from the story you’re trying to tell, which presumably the players want to get on with. (With the exception of number 10, which was just fun.)

1. Rain has been ceaseless. Travel difficult and slow. Make a Con save. The DC is 15 if you’re travelling without tents, with a tent the DC is 10. A failure means you’ve become ill – a mundane cold or slight fluu, but none the less it sucks. You are as if Poisoned until you find medicine or 1d4 days of comfortable rest has been acheived.

2. 1d4 crows – huge ones! – appear and fly nearby for a while. They harmless follow you, curiously. If you choose to befriend the birds, make an Animal Handling check (DC 10). On a success, the crows enjoy your company and are wiling to keep an eye out for you, even joining in battle when outside.

3. You were attacked by 1d4 salamanders. You dispatch them easily. Roll a Survival check (DC 10). On a success, you’re able to disect the animals and extract their poison glands, which are quite valuable. In the right hands, they’re also a good coating for your blades.

4. Make a Perception check (DC 10). On a success you come across a recently buried cache in the ground; it contains 1d4 simple weapons (one is silvered), some bread, water, and some cheeses. There’s also a love letter/death threat/written oath in the box.

5. Make Dexterity saving throws (DC 10). Your camp fire erupts for some reason, scattering burning ashes. On a failure, the embers catch your clothes. They’re damaged now, requiring light mending.

6. Whilst foraging or looking for water, you come across a natural beehive, filled with 1d4 litres of honey. It’s delicious (and valuable), so long as you have a way of carrying it.

7. Throughout your entire journey, at night, the voice of a weeping person could be heard. They sometimes yell a name into the night, but you’re unable to tell which direction it’s coming from. This happens every night. Make a Consitution saving throw (DC 10), or you arrive at your destination with one level of exhaustion.

8. Sometime into your journey you meeting another traveller who is just leaving the general direction of your destination. They stay just long enough to answer two questions; one will be a truth and one will be a plausible lie that the players should corroberate before acting on.

9. Your horse has taken an injury – painfully broken ankle or stone in its shoe – and is unable to carry the burden of your baggage. You’re slowed and need to carry your own cargo. This may mean that you need to leave something behind if you can no longer carry it. Maybe it’ll still be there next time you come by this way…

10. A man lies dead on the floor and a shimmer of a portal – barely visible – still lingers behind him. It is stable and leads to his home which for some reason he was escaping from. Side dungeon!

11. Your journey coincides with the travelling of a circus/bardic band/priest. Along the way you helped them by sharing rations or forraging extra food for them as they were running low. They owe you a favour, which they’re happy to pay at a later date. (The currently have no money.)

12. You find a spellbook/holy book/Tome of Honourable Deeds/natural observation log. It lists a spell, ritual, or enchantment you’ve never heard of before. In fact, no one has. No one is able to deceipher it. It grows warm when it is most needed.