Earlier this year the D&D Adventurers League announced an open call for new designers and wow did you respond. We received nearly 300 applications, almost twice what we were anticipating. As the guy who reviewed each and every application it was actually a lot of fun as I thoroughly enjoy seeing the creative output of the player base. This article will give a rundown of the call and some tips & techniques for success in future calls.
Tips & Techniques for Success
The process of creating written work, be it poetry or prose, is a very personal endeavor. Once you’re facing review and judgment over your creation the emotional stakes get even higher. That said I applaud everyone who took on the challenge and sent in their work. In the end, there were 38 submissions that stood out and have thus been sent for further review and a possible spot in the designer rotation. Everyone else should have received an email from me letting them know that they were not selected. No doubt some of you may be asking what separated those 38 from the rest, well I’m happy to elaborate:
Grammar and spelling-make absolutely sure submissions are spell checked and proof read before you turn it in.
Using proper format and styles-our designers must turn over adventures in a specified format using specified styles in the template. If that doesn’t happen it causes a lot of extra work and delay in turning the adventure around. Learn how the styles section in Word works!
Know the mechanics of the game-the biggest example I saw of folks not understanding how something worked mechanically was in the use of the manticore specified in the design document. In many instances the manticore was used as a proxy for a sphinx in that it was portrayed as intelligent, manipulative, and well-spoken. Looking in the Monster Manual it shows that they are brutish, not very bright, and possess bestial cunning.
Setting and tone-in this design situation there was precious little space to work with, one page for each encounter. Given that, I found that those submissions that used an established setting such as the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk were more successful. Why? I have a frame of reference with the history, deity and place names used. Folks who used homebrew settings often tried to world build as they created their encounters. This meant less space to construct an interesting play experience and more bandwidth spent trying to make sense of the homebrew setting.
Avoid overt humor– I know, it sounds dour but hear me out. With few exceptions, overt humor in D&D is extremely hard to pull off. Instead of jokes or silly names, give DMs and players stuff they can riff on. One recent example is a certain goat in DDEX1-3 and DDEX1-10. Said goat has an unusual description and personality that the DM can work with and organically create humor as they see fit. It’s funny, but not corny. Also, avoid anachronisms. Nothing breaks the tone and feel of a fantasy setting like meeting Baron MacGuffin or Joe Ted the innkeep. While it might sound cute at the time it’s being written, it comes across and incredibly slapdash and lazy.
Using box text and sidebars appropriately-Use box text sparingly! Allow players to create the narrative, not get doused with it. Give the DM key descriptions so they can summarize the encounter area based on the players’ actions. Also, sidebars are a great way to give role play notes and key information to the DM. Again, they should be used sparingly.
Following the design instructions-I can’t stress this one enough. Submissions that did not contain all the elements specified in the design instructions were rejected. When our designers work on AL adventures they have a set of instructions that guide their creative endeavors. The instructions in each adventure serve as the iterative framework for that season’s story arc. Not following said instructions needlessly complicates things.
Be creative– within the design instructions let your creativity run wild. Rescuing the haughty elf noble from the marauding orcs is serviceable but predictable. Defeating the scheming elf noble that has used her necromantic arts to enslave the local orc tribe and menace her old village is much more interesting.
I hope that this brief summary was helpful for those of you who previously submitted and are hopefully thinking about submitting to the next open call. Again, I thoroughly enjoyed reading what the community had to offer and I look forward to seeing what you, the D&D AL community, come up with next!