How to Master Your Craft

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1160

Sain bainuu Johnn,

There’s something they neglect to tell you about writing.

Understand this “plot twist” and the whole job changes.

Here’s the really cool part.

We can apply this new way of looking at things to GMing, as well!

And my hope is, it’ll change how to approach mastering your craft, which I call becoming a Wizard of Adventure.

Let’s talk about the writing part first.

The Puzzle

People who don’t write think it’s about pulling on some secret creative source and teasing out a grand thread like Shakespeare.

My approach is much more mundane.

I pick a topic or problem.

Then I draft a title. Then write an outline.

Next I do the summary.

And end the piece with an introduction.

Nothing woo woo there. Pretty pedestrian, actually.

If I don’t know what I’m talking about (which is most of the time according to my wife, lol) then I add a research phase.

Here’s what blew the doors open for me and gave me a deep love for writing:

Writing is a series of puzzles.


When I’m reading, my ideal article or story has certain elements provided in a certain order.

There are several structures, or patterns as I think of them, a writer can follow. Design patterns.

Then there’s grammar and how to order words in a sentence. That’s simply a series of rules, like game rules.

To have a good writing game, you need to read the manual and learn the rules of play. (Also this.)

We now have the recipe for playing the game of good writing. Anyone can learn this game and play.


Here’s the secret sauce I had to figure out on my own.

I didn’t realize I knew this writing plot twist until I shared it with a writer friend recently who said he felt the same way.

Aha! There must be something to this then. Validated.

A number of factors go into a piece of great writing.

You should have a strong introduction.

Then you should transition between paragraphs and sections so the reading experience flows and time disappears.

Choosing the right word at the right time makes a big difference.

Offering an Aha! moment gives your piece punch.

And using metaphors connects writing with our brains, which are pattern-matching and symbolic machines.

I think of these “tricks” as puzzles. And each has different varieties and templates. More design patterns.

To go from ok writer to great writer involves learning these puzzles.

It comes down to creating an inventory of tried and true solutions.

From Good to Great

First, you must see the puzzles.

Then you find, discover, and test answers.

After a while, you build a toolbox of excellent solutions. Solutions that become well-worn friends as you tap the keys.

For example, a magazine editor told me once to try writing sentences without using “is“.

Harder than it looks.

But fantastic for concision and forcing yourself to learn new patterns of sentence design.

When you step back and see writing as learning rules of a game and building up a strong repertoire of puzzle solutions, you see the Matrix.

You see a world the reader — who knows not to look for it — never perceives.

So too it goes with becoming a Wizard of Adventure.

The GM Toolbox

We start out learning the mechanics of GMing.

We study the game rules.

Then we figure out how to run and organize game sessions.

Those drawn deeper tangle with homebrew adventures, campaigns, and even entire worlds.

At this point we might deem ourselves good game masters.

But there’s always something new to learn about GMing, so we build desire to go from good to great.

And that, my fellow RPT GM, brings us to becoming a Wizard of Adventure.

To be great we must first see the puzzles.

Then we must learn, discover, and test solutions to find what works best for our unique GMing style.

I see writing as puzzle solving. It’s the same with becoming a Wizard of Adventure.

That’s what this newsletter and my books and courses are about.

My goal has been, since 1999, to help you see the puzzles we can solve.

Then offer you solutions from my learning, discoveries, and testing to try out from behind your screen.

Tools like Loopy Planning, 3 Line NPCs, 5 Room Dungeons, and the Adventure Building Master Game Plan.

However, it’s up to you to put things to the test. You need to run games as campaigns, limited series, or one-shots.

As you do, see every GMing challenge and gameplay friction point as a puzzle to explore, play with, and overcome with style.

It’s my hope you will become a Wizard of Adventure, because the world needs more great game masters such as yourself.

Updates & Reader Tips

Watch New Features Campaign Logger vNext

Jochen and I hopped onto Zoom to demonstrate cool new stuff we added to the next version of Campaign Logger, currently in beta.

In this first demo we show:

  • How to use the new charts and diagrams feature
  • A demo of the new initiative tracker
  • Saving frequently used dice rolls and searches
  • Campaign Tags are automatically created now when you mention new ones in Logs

Click here to watch our demo now.

When Players game the System

re: A Divine Way to Manage Your Meddling Gods – a 3 Part Framework

RPT GM Doug asks how to prevent abuse of divine privilege:

Hi Johnn,

I like the idea of rewarding roleplaying with tangible benefits, like your example of allowing a character who demonstrates the ideals of his deity to do something with Advantage that day.

But if the players in my group knew this was part of the system, their characters would routinely start each day helping little old ladies across the street.

I’m wondering how to avoid having players treat that type of roleplaying as a checkbox.

Hey Doug,

Great question. Especially if your players like to meta-game a bit.

In my Adventure Building Master Game Plan I define a great game as one where players have interesting choices against conflicts with uncertain outcomes.

Take away any part of that – choice, conflict, uncertainty – and you’re not playing a great game any more.

Applying this to your question, if the basic option is being abused without good roleplay, try adding choice, conflict, and uncertainty.

For example, each morning a PC can choose from three rituals to get one of three boons. Each ritual comes with a cost the player knows up front.

Perhaps one ritual makes them vulnerable to an energy type.

Another ritual gives them disadvantage against the god’s foes.

The third ritual gives a great boon but requires a commensurate sacrifice.

The uncertainty comes from the gamble that a ritual’s cost will not greatly affect them that day.

And by giving them three choices, instead of a ritual/no ritual decision, players will become engaged in trying to pick the best option.

Also, you can base rewards on merit. The gods have great expectations of the player characters, for the PCs travel a special path.

Helping people across the street poses no risk nor advances the gods’ goals. So the reward becomes withheld after the second such weak attempt to gain favour.

In fact, should the gods feel their champions abuse their favours, the party might feel the sting of some divine correction.

You could also rule the act must meet certain requirements or there’s backlash.

You could also roleplay the event or the divine agents who bequeath the character boons (and retributions). The players think they’ve got another cheap blessing this day by barely lifting a finger…and that’s when you turn the situation into an interesting encounter.

Just some thoughts. I hope they help.