The Writing Process: Developing the Idea

We asked our first Patreon support what kind of blog posts they wanted to see. Their response was a series on the writing process. Previously, we talked about where we get the core idea from. Today we are developing that idea into a full usable draft. Like last time, we are using the example of a 5e warlock, one we’re calling the Crusadress. We decided last time that this patron has good intentions but with a spin of doing the wrong thing. We’ll see how that changes as we go through our steps.

1) Describe Each Core Concept in a Few Words

Before we make this a big pile of random, we need a solid idea of all the Crusadress’ core concepts. As we said above, “doing the right thing” is one as well as “doing the wrong thing” is also apart of that. While I could tighten up that last concept to something like, “for the wrong reasons” or “goes about it the wrong way,” I am intentionally not doing so. When creating player-faced material, you have to keep it loose for individual interpretation. If this was for an NPC, I would most definitely pick one of them as a core concept. However, player material needs room for different character concepts. Saying, “this is the one right way to play this material” is the worst thing you can do. That would be like calling a fighter a “defender” without leaving room for an archer, a Dex-based finesse fighter, and so on.

Next core concept is “blind dedication to a cause.” “Hitting first and asking questions later to never,” is another solid idea. You can deep doing this for a while, but it is best to limit the core concepts to three or four. We’ll stick with these four.

2) Create Abilities that Match Concepts

Warlock patrons get 4 class abilities and a total of 10 spells across 5 levels. Spells are an easy place to start. When I hear “doing the right thing,” I think paladin. So let’s pick some spells from the paladin spell list to give to our warlock patron. Branding smite is definitely going to be picked, if for no other reason than it is the only OGL smite spell. As a result, we may end up creating some new smite spells, but we’ll work on that later. Heroism is another good choice since a lack of fear fits well with both doing the right thing and blind dedication to a cause. So is detect evil and good, banishment, and dispel even and good.

When I think of “doing the wrong thing,” I think warlock. So lets add a few spells. Enthrall is a solid choice. Hellish rebuke is a good for “wrong thing” as well as “hitting first.” However, we already choose two first-level spells. That’s ok. Right now having too many options is a good thing; we can make cuts later. Vampiric touch has a very “ends justify the means” vibe which is another way of saying, “blind dedication to a cause.

The question now becomes, how do you turn these concepts into class abilities or spells for empty spell slots. Well let’s go back to the Core Idea blog post and use “look at official sources” principle. The core book’s first level warlock abilities include charming/frightening someone once per short rest, bonus hit points when providing the final blow on a creature, and telepathy with a creature you can’t otherwise understand, XGtE has two additional cantrips + a healing pool, a curse + bonus proficiencies + the ability to attack with your Charisma modifier instead of Str or Dex.

So some of these recreate a variation on a spell (charm person, fear, vampiric touch), so varying up a spell and toning it up or down for 1st level. Bless fits the concept of “doing the right thing” and “hitting first and asking questions never.” I specifically didn’t choose that in the spell list because that spell has its routes purely in the divine. So let’s vary it up some. How about instead of blessing people, you “bless” attacks against a creature you attacked? This could be something like, “All attacks against the creature roll an additional d4 and add the number rolled to the attack roll.” This will need some verbage about not stacking with bless. To balance it against similar first-level abilities, you’ll need to use a bonus action to activate it after hitting said creature with a spell or weapon attack and can’t use again until after a short/long rest. Solid idea, it encourages coordination with the party since everyone should be ready to make attacks against the big bad, the basic concept is already familiar, but it is different enough to be special. Use the same process for creating new spells, but here you have to consider which classes can cast it by default.

When you’re done here, you should have a full spell list and all the abilities in a rough draft version. Here is where you…

3) See What Other’s Think

Show the mechanics and core concepts to other game designers and people you trust (like your home gaming group). Let them give you feedback based on how they read it as well as playtest it. Is one ability far too powerful or utterly worthless. It takes a whole lot of eyes on something to see whether it is a good idea or not, more than you have alone.

Please note, I said above that you are showing the mechanics and core concepts, not the final version of the thing. Simple reason: everything is still subject to change at this point. EVERYTHING. If no one agrees that one of your core concepts and all associated mechanics works with the rest, the core concept associated mechanics have to be kicked out of the thing. When that happens, either you have to create new mechanics based on the remaining concepts or add a new concept and create new mechanics. When you have a consensus that what you have is on point and balanced, then you are ready to move on.

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